The Divorce Settlement Agreement

What Is It? Do You Need One? What Should It Include?

The Divorce Settlement AgreementOften, divorce proceedings involve no real animosity; the parties recognize that their marriage isn’t working and that they’ve just grown apart. Maybe there are children or even a substantial marital estate involved, but both sides are able to amicably agree on custody and visitation, as well as the equitable distribution of assets and debts. As harmonious as such a divorce may be, a written divorce settlement agreement is still needed.

What Is a Divorce Settlement Agreement?

A divorce settlement agreement is a written document, signed by both parties, which sets forth in detail the terms of the parties’ agreement regarding custody and visitation, child support, alimony or spousal support, and the division of marital debts and assets. Though an oral agreement may technically be enforceable in court, there are proof problems inherent with oral agreements. The written settlement agreement becomes a binding contract, requiring that the parties comply with its terms. If one party fails to perform as specified, legal action can be taken.

There’s no requirement to have a settlement agreement in place before or at the time you separate. In fact, the final agreement typically comes late in the divorce process. The sooner you can come to agreement and put it in writing, the less acrimony and expense you’ll incur.

It’s usually in your best interests to have an attorney either negotiate the terms of the settlement agreement or at least review the provisions. An attorney will have a comprehensive understanding of the law and can ensure that the agreement is in your best interests. It’s also fairly common for the judge in a divorce proceeding to review the settlement agreement to ensure that it’s fair to both parties. If you can’t reach an amicable agreement with your spouse, the judge may decide to issue a ruling governing custody, support, and property distribution.

Once your settlement agreement is signed, it’s a legally enforceable document. You can make modifications to the agreement, but they must be mutual and should be done in writing.

Contact an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

At the law office of David M. Lipshutz, we won’t take your case unless we know we can help. For a private meeting, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M.


Coronavirus Family Law DisputesI have already fought for many clients involved in coronavirus pandemic parenting time disputes. Those disputes are emotional. There are three important documents to keep in mind:

  1. New Jersey Statute 9:2-4 provides that it is the public policy of New Jersey for children to have “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents in separation and divorce situations.
  2. Court Orders as to parenting time are valid and enforceable, even during a pandemic.
  3. Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 107, which generally requires most people to stay at home, specifically exempts “visiting family members as a caretaker”.

I will not let a parent use the coronavirus to deny my client his or her court-ordered time with a child.

That said, both parents must comply with the Governor’s ordered precautions (e.g., social distancing, hand-washing) while he or she has care of a child. Do not give the other parent an excuse to withhold the child (e.g., Facebook post of parent and child at a crowded gathering).

When one parent is ultra-cautious, and the other less so, I work to try to find a fair and reasonable middle ground, as in any other dispute.

There are economic coronavirus disputes as well, e.g., payment of child support and/or alimony when the payor has been laid off or furloughed and dividing the stimulus checks for the child.

Contact me for help.

How Does New Jersey Define “Best Interests of the Child”?

How Does New Jersey Define When New Jersey courts consider custody, visitation, and child support matters, including issues like parental relocation and college education funding, the standard that takes priority is referred to as the “best interests of the child.” How do the courts apply this standard to identify what constitutes a minor child’s “best interests”?

The Factors Used to Determine a Child’s Best Interests

Under New Jersey practice, “best interests” is defined broadly, covering physical, emotional, and mental health and well-being. Additionally, New Jersey courts start with the assumption that it’s generally in a minor child’s “best interests” to have meaningful and regular interaction with both parents.

New Jersey law specifically identifies the factors a court may consider when making a determination of best interests:

  • The nature of the relationship between the parents, e.g., do they have the ability to work cooperatively, communicate, and reach agreement about issues related to the child’s well-being, including custody and visitation
  • The nature of the relationship between the child and each parent, e.g., the time the child spent with each parent before the divorce; the nature and quality of the interaction; and whether the nature and quality of the interaction has changed since the divorce
  • The fitness of each parent to attend to the physical, emotional, mental, and financial needs of the child
  • The stability of the home environment of each parent
  • The age and number of children in each home
  • The work schedules of the parents
  • The proximity of the parents’ homes to each other
  • Any special needs of the child
  • The preference of the child (depending on the age of the child)

Contact an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

At the law office of David M. Lipshutz, we won’t take your case unless we know we can help. For a private meeting, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M.

Coronavirus Effect On My Practice

Coronavirus Effect On My PracticeMy legal secretary Dorie and I continue to work from my office. However, in an effort to protect clients and us, the office is locked.

I speak with clients by phone and communicate by e-mail. There is a box outside the front door for drop-offs of documents.

I participate in court proceedings by Zoom video conferencing or phone. The courts are still open, although many proceedings have been postponed.

Many legal needs do not stop, even during an epidemic. In fact, the epidemic has caused some new legal needs (e.g., refusal of parenting time because of the lockdown). I continue to work on, and resolve, my clients’ legal needs. I have resolved several parenting time and support disputes in the last few weeks.

Understanding Alimony in New Jersey—An Introduction

Understanding Alimony in New Jersey—An IntroductionA spouse in New Jersey (male or female) still has a right to seek spousal support (alimony) during and after a divorce. In the Garden State, spousal support typically is determined on a case-by-case basis, with the court looking at the following factors:

  • How long the parties have been married
  • The age and physical health of the parties at the time of the divorce
  • The needs of the receiving party and ability of the other party to pay
  • The extent to which each spouse is actively involved with child-rearing
  • The standard of living to which the parties were accustomed during the marriage
  • The respective earning capacities of both parties, as well as educational levels, job training, and skills that may affect earning capacity
  • The length of time the recipient has been out of the job market
  • The length of time it would take the recipient to acquire education or training to become self-supporting
  • How property was allocated in the divorce decree
  • Ownership by either party of income-producing assets
  • Any other factors the court deems relevant

The Different Types of Alimony

There are five different types of spousal support in New Jersey:

  • Alimony pendent lite—This is an award that is only payable while a divorce is in process—essentially a temporary form of spousal support.
  • Limited duration alimony—In many cases, the court will award alimony for a specified time to allow the receiving spouse time to become self-supporting – the term generally cannot exceed the length of the marriage.
  • Rehabilitative alimony—Similar to limited duration alimony, this award typically lasts until the receiving spouse completes job training or other requirements to become self-sufficient.
  • Reimbursement alimony—This award represents reimbursement for sacrifices one spouse made to benefit the other, such as working to support the family while the other spouse obtained an advanced degree.
  • Open duration alimony—This is an award without an identified termination date. It may be for the rest of the person’s life, or it may be ended by the court at its discretion.

Modification of Alimony

Once alimony is awarded, it can be subsequently terminated or reduced if a substantial change in circumstances is proven, e.g., remarriage, cohabitation, loss of job, retirement, severe health problems, or significant change in income of either party.

Contact an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

At the law office of David M. Lipshutz, we won’t take your case unless we know we can help.For aprivate meeting, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 AM and 5 PM.

Calculating Child Support in New Jersey

Calculating Child Support in New JerseyIn the state of New Jersey, by law, both parents of a minor child are required to provide financial support for that child in the event of a divorce or separation. It is assumed that, if the parents were still living together, they would combine their incomes to meet the child’s needs. New Jersey’s child support law seeks to bring about the same result through the payment of child support.

The Factors Used to Calculate Child Support in New Jersey

To determine the appropriate amount of child support to be paid, the court will first determine the parents’ combined net incomes. Net income is generally calculated by identifying gross income from all sources, including wages or salary, bonuses, commissions, tips, business income, interest and dividend income, disability payments, workers’ compensation, unemployment, Social Security, veteran’s benefits and severance pay. To determine net income, the court then subtracts certain payments, such as taxes and other child support paid. For a quick calculation, you can go to the New Jersey Child Support Calculator. However, if the court determines that a parent should be earning more, based on his/her education and work experience, the court can impute additional income to the parent.

There are basically two types of child support calculations in New Jersey: the sole custody calculation and the shared parenting calculation. If a minor child spends less than 105 nights per year with the non-custodial parent, child support will be calculated using the sole parenting worksheet, found in Appendix IX-C of the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. If the child spends more than 105 nights, but less than 183 (50%) nights with the non-custodial parent, the shared parenting worksheet (Appendix IX-D) is usually used.

The child support worksheets take into consideration the basic needs and expenses of the child, such as food, clothing and shelter. Certain predictable recurring expenses, such as child care, health insurance coverage, medical expenses and even transportation for visitation (if the custodial parent relocates) can also change the support calculation.

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will only take your case if we know we can help.For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.

The Division of Marital Property in New Jersey

The Division of Marital Property in New JerseyIn a divorce proceeding, particularly when there are substantial marital debts and assets, one of the most challenging tasks to be completed is the determination of who receives certain property and how the debt is allocated. There are generally two approaches to the division of marital property—equitable distribution and community property laws. New Jersey follows the legal principle of equitable distribution.

The Factors Used to Distribute Marital Property in New Jersey

Under the concept of equitable distribution, if the parties cannot work out their own agreement regarding debts and assets, the court will establish the terms of the property division. Equitable distribution requires that the court divide assets “fairly,” but not necessarily equally. Among the many factors that the court can consider when allocating debts and assets are:

  • the length of time the parties have been married
  • the age of both parties
  • the physical and emotional health of the parties
  • the standard of living to which the parties were accustomed during the marriage
  • any prenuptial or other written agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage concerning an arrangement of property distribution
  • the economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property becomes effective
  • the income and earning capacity of each party, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, custodial responsibilities for children, and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage
  • the contribution by each party to the education, training or earning power of the other
  • the income or property brought to the marriage by each party
  • the contribution of each party to the acquisition, dissipation, preservation, depreciation or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a party as a homemaker
  • the tax consequences of the proposed distribution to each party
  • the present value of the property
  • the need of a parent who has physical custody of a child to own or occupy the marital residence and to use or own the household effects
  • the debts and liabilities of the parties
  • the need for creation, now or in the future, of a trust fund to secure reasonably foreseeable medical or educational costs for a spouse or children
  • the extent to which a party deferred achieving their career goals
  • any other factors which the court may deem relevant.

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will only take your case if we know we can help. For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.

Happy New Year 2020

Happy New Year 2020

May the holiday season fill your home with joy, your heart with love, and your life with laughter.

Stepparent Adoptions in New Jersey—The Basics

Stepparent Adoptions in New JerseyWhen you are divorced with minor children, and you remarry, you may consider having your new spouse legally adopt your children. There can be a number of tangible benefits to doing this:

  • If the other biological parent is abusive, obstinate or unfit to be a parent, you can legally limit his or her access to the child.
  • Your new spouse will have the legal right to participate in decisions regarding the child’s welfare.
  • The children may be entitled to certain work-related benefits.
  • It can help your new spouse build a strong relationship with your children.

In some instances, completing a stepparent adoption is relatively simple, but it also can be fraught with challenges. Here are some of the fundamental things you need to know about the stepparent adoption process in New Jersey:

  • There are age restrictions. A person must be at least 18 years old to be a stepparent. In addition, the stepparent must be at least 10 years older than the adopted child. You can always petition the court to remove those restrictions if doing so is in the best interests of the minor child.
  • You must obtain a termination of the parental rights of the other parent. The easiest way is for the other biological parent to voluntarily relinquish all parental rights. If the other parent is unwilling to do so, however, you must petition the court to terminate their rights. In New Jersey, parental rights can be terminated only if the parent is deemed unfit. Some of the factors that might form the basis for a ruling of unfitness are neglect and abandonment, substance abuse, or evidence of criminal activity. Failure to pay child support is not sufficient grounds for termination of parental rights.
  • If the child to be adopted is over the age of 10, his or her preference may be considered, but the court will have sole discretion to make a decision in the best interests of the child.

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will take your case only if we know we can help. For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Happy Thanksgiving 2019

Happy Thanksgiving 2019

“Give thanks not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day of your life. Appreciate and never take for granted all that you have.” – Catherine Pulsifer